Figures of Play: Greek Drama and Metafictional Poetics

By Gregory W. Dobrov | Go to book overview

Preface

This book is situated at the crossroads of several disciplines -- classical philology, dramatic theory, literary criticism -- and many separate lines of inquiry. It is therefore written with an eye to a wider audience outside classics. I argue that the emergence of drama in classical Athens marks the invention of sophisticated, self-aware genres in which the "play" was, fundamentally, play with already established fictions (of myth, epic, lyric, drama, etc.). This playful -- more precisely, metafictional -- temperament manifests itself in a variety of phenomenologically distinct "figures of play," whereby drama reveals and exploits an awareness of its own theatricality. Like a figure of speech, each of my "figures of play" is a unique strategy of dramatic syntax that is used to extend and complicate the signifying process; and, like figures of speech, these theatrical strategies mask a high degree of reflexivity and artifice with the pretense of innocence.

Such is the theory. In practice, I take a close look at a series of plays where this more abstract "syntax" is applied to specific and familiar terms. Hence the other meaning of "figures of play," stage-figures, that is, characters in the plays chosen here as test cases for my argument: Aias, Pentheus, Bellerophontes, Tereus, and Herakles. Each of these figures acts as a focal point for the transformational poetics of the script in which he has the leading role. The mythological lineup appears to be uniform, but it conceals a generic divide, as Aias and Pentheus operate in the world of tragedy, while the latter three are comic protagonists who have been "recycled" from tragedy. This study deviates from scholarly tradition by engaging tragedy and comedy simultaneously from a single theoretical perspective. Anxiety about the strict separation of genres is as old as Plato, but it is encouraging to see a new wave of comparative work unintimidated by ancient strictures. In fact, it is fair to say that scholars currently studying the intertextual and metatheatrical aspects of Greek drama have recently established a thriving subfield with strong theoretical links to many fields outside classics. It is my hope to further encourage communication across the generic divide and between the equally formidable divides of discipline and theoretical orientation.

-vii-

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Figures of Play: Greek Drama and Metafictional Poetics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Part I - Metatheater 1
  • 1 - Drama and Metafiction 3
  • 2 - Figures of Play, Part 1 14
  • 3 - Figures of Play, Part 2 the Comic Contrafact 33
  • Part II - The Anatomy of Dramatic Fiction 55
  • 4 - Aias 57
  • 5 - Pentheus 70
  • Part III - The Anatomy of Dramatic Fiction 87
  • 6 - Bellerophontes 89
  • 7 - Tereus Sophokles' Tereus and Aristophanes' Birds 105
  • 8 - Herakles 133
  • Notes 163
  • Bibliography 213
  • Index 233
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